The Matrix movie
© Warner Brothers
There are a lot of reasons for why someone might want to commit a crime. Rage, passion, jealousy, and revenge are common acquaintances of evil doings. Mental illness is often involved, as are delusions and paranoia, and inscrutable demons dwelling upon the psyche, among others. We have proved that as a species we are capable of some grim, inhuman acts, and for as long as we have had a semblance of a legal system there have been those who have tried to dodge the guilt that has been thrust upon them. From voices in the head, to sleepwalking, to being possessed by literal demons, but in recent years there has been a rather odd defense that has been claimed from time to time, one based on a very prominent movie that has generated quite a bit of speculation on our reality.

In 1999, the science fiction film The Matrix was released. Directed by the The Wachowskis and starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, and Joe Pantoliano, the movie depicted a future in which human beings were encased in cocoons so that their life-force could be harnessed to power the sentient machines that ruled the earth. Within this dystopian future, these enslaved humans go about their lives within an artificial simulated reality in order to keep them under control, which they wholeheartedly believe and accept to be their reality. The movies, which span three films, including The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, tells the saga of a humble computer programmer who realizes that reality is not what it seems, and manages to tear free from his enforced dream-world into the real world in order to wage a war against the machines.

The movies, especially the first of the series, were widely praised for their daring special effects work and deep rumination on such philosophical issues as the meaning of existence and the nature of reality, but for some it was all more than just a movie. In recent times there have emerged a series of high profile, gruesome crimes committed by people who actually seem to believe that the world of The Matrix films is literally real, that it fueled their bloodlust, and that their crimes have taken place within this false reality, even going so far as to use this as a defense in court. It is a phenomenon now known as "The Matrix Defense," and it is every bit as bizarre as it sounds.

As insane as it may all seem, there are actually a shocking number of criminal cases where the perpetrator of a horrific crime has used this as an actual legal defense. In 2000, 27-year-old computer science student at San Francisco State University Vadim Mieseges brutally murdered fellow student Ella Wong, who had been renting him a room in her apartment. The grisly killing involved disemboweling and skinning Wong before cutting her up and unceremoniously scattering her dismembered body parts in various far flung places around the area.

When Mieseges was found by police, he was wandering around a mall with a knife, high on drugs, and acting bizarrely. Upon his arrest he spouted a good amount of nonsense gibberish before telling authorities that he was living in the virtual reality of The Matrix, and that therefore Wong had never really been a real person at all. Eventually a judge would declare him mentally incompetent to stand trial and he was institutionalized. One detective who interviewed Mieseges at the time, an Inspector Kelly Carroll, would say of the young man's potent delusions:
He did make reference to being sucked into The Matrix. He seemed to have stepped through the looking glass, and The Matrix was a real thing to him.
In July of 2002, 37-year-old Tonda Lynn Ansley, of Butler County, Ohio, got a gun and proceeded to shoot a Miami University professor who she was renting a house from, Sherry Lee Corbett, 55, multiple times in the head. The coldblooded murder was carried out in full view of startled witnesses in broad daylight, and Ansley was quickly detained. Upon questioning, Ansley told detectives that she believed that the world they were in was not real, and that she was living in a computer simulation like in The Matrix. In this alternate reality, she said that her landlady had been involved in a conspiracy to keep her brainwashed and under the control of the simulation, as well as "invading her dreams," with the ultimate goal of killing her. In Ansley's mind, this was all simple self-defense against the sinister agents conspiring to keep her in the virtual dream world. She would say of her perceived predicament:
They commit a lot of crimes in The Matrix. That's where you go to sleep at night and they drug you and take you somewhere else and then they bring you back and put you in bed and, when you wake up, you think that it's a bad dream.
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